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Going for Gold | Gibbs High student training for gold at Special Olympics USA Games

As Olympic athletes from around the world compete in Beijing, some East Tennessee athletes are preparing for their own Olympic dreams.

HALLS, Tennessee — Every week Wyatt Branson heads Fountain Lanes Strike & Spare to practice his bowling technique with his classmates.

The bowling alley has become like a second home since the 22-year-old with special needs found a passion for the sport six years ago.

"I'm just focusing on those pins and making sure they all go down," Branson smiled.

Training is not always easy.

"The split's the hard part because I can't get close," he said. "Hopefully it hits the other one, but sometimes it doesn't work."

But Branson said the difference is in the follow-through and believes hard work and determination eventually pay off.

"Just focus and you gotta let 'em go," he said.

The payoff came in a big way recently when Branson was selected to compete this summer in the Special Olympics USA Games.

The Gibbs High School senior is among only a handful of East Tennessee athletes who qualified to attend.

5,500 athletes from all 50 states and the Caribbean will test their skills in Orlando this June.

"They called my name out, and I was like finally!" Branson smiled.

"He came running out of his house, grabbed me, and swung me around in circles," Area Director for Special Olympics of Greater Knoxville Gina Legg said. 

Legg has been working with students like Branson for years and has seen firsthand the benefits of competing.

Credit: Gina Legg
Gina Legg, left, and Wyatt Branson, right, pose for a picture.

"It just gives them the opportunity to participate in a variety of sports just like other athletes in school settings," Legg said.

Special Olympics includes all athletes, no matter their abilities, offering year-round training and athletic competition.

Over the years, Branson has tried his hand at several sports, racking up many medals along the way.

Credit: Gina Legg
Wyatt and his teammates with Special Olympics pose for a picture.

"It's just incredible to see them progress from the local level all the way to the USA Games," Legg said.

Branson is keeping his eye on the prize as the summer games approach, hoping to win gold, with Legg and his teammates cheering him on all the way to Orlando.

Credit: Gina Legg
Wyatt Branson poses for a picture after winning a gold medal in Special Olympics.

"Go Team Tennessee! Get em'!" Branson smiled.

Click here to learn more about how you can support Special Olympics athletes.

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